Kyabje Kunzang Dorje Rinpoche and Jomo Sam'phel
photo : Vision magazine of the Aro lineage, 2001
My big brother is marrying his partner of some years this weekend, in Australia. They have two most beautiful young children, whom I know through photographs. Their family is larger than that, though - my brother has other, older children from earlier marriages, whom I also barely know, and of course there are the families of my brother and his partner, which no doubt extend further than I imagine.
I would not describe us as a close family - not through discord, by any means - but by geography, life choices. We each - and I have 3 siblings, all living in the vicinity of Sydney, where we grew up - have carved out lives for ourselves, and, as can happen, these lives do not intersect with any great regularity. Certainly this is the case for me, as I have spent much of my adult life living in other states or countries.
But, this does not negate deeper bonds, that cross beyond this life. My family was the earth in which I took root, and from which I have grown. Without their presence, their contributions, I may not be where I am today, who I am today. Of course, I am responsible for the choices I have made (wise and foolish), yet I am linked to my siblings by our shared past.
My big brother is seven years older than me, which, for a child, can be a great number of years; though the age differential has shrunk over time. I would not say we were close as children, yet one fond memory is of me very small, and my brother wrapping me up in a blanket early one Sunday morning - as snug as a bug in a rug, he said - to carry me into my parent's room to snuggle. I have no recollection of events prior to or after I was wrapped, but that one snapshot is strong and vivid, encapsulating love, tenderness, caring and belonging. Qualities he displays today; especially since my parents' deaths he has maintained the links amongst us. The family is alive in our hearts.
When I was growing up I dreamed of getting married - the whole romantic, white picket fence routine; i love Meg Ryan moves, if that gives you an idea. The first time I seriously thought of it I was about eight years old, and my best friend, Peter B. and I discussed getting married. The one presenting problem was that he was Catholic and I was not, and we knew you could not marry in a Church if that was the case. Such serious issues for small children to ponder; i think I planned to convert. As we grew up we grew apart and, most sadly, I heard Peter died when still a young man. He was most definitely my first love, with a kind and gentle heart.
My mother kept many of my school books - essays, drawings etc - and I found one I wrote at about the same age, perhaps a year or two later, entitled "My 40th Birthday". It was so humorous to read when indeed I turned 40 - I was married to a space traveller, we had at least 8 children (2 sets of twins), I spent my days tending them and cooking and cleaning (my birthday gift from my husband was a robot to help with these chores!). That dream ran deep in my psyche.
In fact, one reason I chose to be ordained was because this yearning has been so strong in my life. Its not that you can't be a Buddhist and be in a relationship, or that I thought there was a problem with sharing your life happily with someone else. It certainly wasn't about denial or repression. It was a deep understanding that - for me - I needed to let go of the premise I had held for so many years of where I would find happiness, in order to embrace my spiritual path in the way I needed to. It was a purely personal choice, based on knowing myself, my patterns, the habits that I needed to loosen my grip on (or their grip on me!). My partner and I had been through some tough times - had been to counselling, worked very hard - and had reached a place that it seemed my dreams could come true, especially as we began to connect with Buddhism. This made it such a more challenging, yet precious, decision to make; leaving a bad relationship would have made so much more sense to the wider world.
A few years ago I had the honour to be one of three witnesses at my ex-partners joining ceremony with her new partner. Jetsunma, who is a certified marriage celebrant, performed the ceremony, in the living room of a friend's home. It was very simple - a beautiful altar, with flowers, candles, White Tara; they each had written their own vows, which they spoke for all of us to share. Jetsunma gave the most exquisite blessing, speaking of the richness of a loving relationship, how one can support the other to grow on the Path. I wept the entire time, bathing in Jetsunma's joy, my friends' joy; the room, the world was alight. Of course this, ceremony has no legal stance, especially in Arizona, but Jetsunma referred most pointedly to that; for she, with unbounding love and wisdom, would never deny or condemn the relationship of two people, whomever they may be, if it is grounded in love and commitment and honour and trust. For her, it is a union to be blessed, and from which goodness will arise.
It was interesting for me - as bridesmaid, as I teased my ex-partner, who had never embraced the idea of such commitment to me! - to participate in this ceremony. I watched, kneeling close to Jetsunma's side, as they spoke, exchanged rings - both teary-eyed, a little nervous. (I had shopped with them for days to buy just the right outfits!). I felt great happiness for them, but not one iota of remorse at the choice I had made to become ordained. In a way, I was watching my own dream play out, with someone else in the leading role, and I was contented - joyful - to be where I was, who I am. I am happy for that dream or that choice for anyone else, and yet I am certain that having let that dream go, I discovered different opportunities for living my live fully, with laughter and joy.
I chose the photo for this post because I think it is exquisite; it is the lead photo for a teaching by Ngak'chang Rinpoche of the Aro lineage on Vajra Romance. Rinpoche and his wife, Khandro Dechen, are the holders of this pure Nyingma lineage, and offer extraordinary teachings and insights, which have helped me immeasurably. I cannot do justice to Rinpoche's words or the depth of meaning they convey, for they arise from Wisdom mind, but I would like to share this brief extract, without suggesting that it in any way contains all that Rinpoche's teaching is really about:
So falling in love...is spoken of as being a nyam, and a nyam is a spiritual experience....And this is where we see for a moment, or a day, or a month, an aspect of our entirety. So one comes to value the other person a great deal. One automatically engages in the two prongs, or the two forks, of spiritual practice according to Buddhism, which are...wisdom and compassion. Wisdom equates to being open, compassion equates to being kind.
Everybody who falls in love becomes open and kind to their partner, at least for a period of time. And the more open and kind you are, the more openness and kindness you get back; so the more openness and kindness you put out."
We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect lives. We rise to joy and fall into suffering. We try to find answers, or even frame questions. We each make sense as best we can with what we uncover in ourselves, our environment. And on this journey there are people with whom we share our lives - sometimes by choice, sometimes simply so, because they are there. Each of these encounters is an opportunity to look, to learn, to hear, to change. To make the world a true home, embracing all. There is no moment when this potential does not exist; it is the richness of who we are, who we can become. For those of us who choose to share our lives and hearts in a partnership of trust and commitment, to honour that basic goodness as the fertile ground of all possibility - to Tim and Leanne - and to everyone who knows and treasures that deep bond to another, I wish you every happiness, always.